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Exploring the reserve - Richards Diary part 12

Monday 26th April

Beate and Eberhard have promised to take us into the core reserve areas of the biosphere today and we’re looking forward to it. Our first stop is a viewpoint at Grimnitzee where we spot osprey (‘fishadler’) soaring over the lake. This was a big hunting area during the time of Kaiser Willhelm II and remained so under Herman Goering and then Eric Honneker during GDR times. It was also a big glass making area at one stage because of the plentiful supplies of sand and freshwater.

We drive on into extensive beech forest. The beech is just coming into leaf and in the spring sunshine the pale green canopy is lovely. We stop to look for breeding cranes in an alder swamp - Beate locates a bird on a nest in open water. On again and we’re in awe of Eberhard’s knowledge of the maze of forest tracks, which leave us completely lost, like modern day Hansels and Grettels.

We stop at a monument to a forester who in 1907 helped set up the first nature reserve in Schorfheide forest. Beate points out a couple of veteran beech trees, some of which carry a ‘Methuselah project’ badge in recognition of their age and ecological value.

Lutz, Roland, Me, Beate and Eberhard
Lutz, Roland, me, Beate and Eberhard

Young beech trees coming into leaf in the forest
Lovely young beech trees coming out in the Schorfheide-Chorin forest

We stop at a lovely open beech wood for an extended walk. Eberhard points out a large darting fritillary which he says it’s a beech specialist. I’m not sure what it is, possibly a spotted fritillary, and will have to look it up later.

For lunch we stop at the organic farm in Brodovin. Eberhard tells us about the federal government’s measure to rate the value of different types of farming for employment. The most intensive farming in the area supports about ½ a person per 100ha, conventional farming about 1 person per 100ha, with organic farming supporting an amazing 4 people per 100ha. The farm shop is full of lovely organic food, especially sausages and cheeses, and we sit outside for a lunch of spelt wheat soup, beetroot soup, olive bread, local organic cheese and apple juice. The organic Friesans are the first dairy cows we’ve seen outside in the fields and we’re all thinking why can’t all our farming and food be like this?

In the afternoon, carrying our hefty lunch, we climb a local drumlin (a small glacial hill) near Brodovin, to the sound of calling lesser whitethroats and corn buntings. There are carpets of cowslips on the hillside grass along with wood sage. The view is tremendous and Eberhard points out a row of hills maybe 20 miles long which mark the southern edge of the Ice Age glaciers. I remember the neat little drawings of glaciers we did in our geography books at school and consider the vast scale of the landscape in front of me. Beate says the ice was two km thick at this point. We are reminded of the awesome power of the earth, which last week stopped all the planes in western Europe with a puff of smoke from a small volcano.

view from the drumlin
View south from the drumlin

Later we visit a lovely open beech wood where the soils are slightly richer and the beech is less dominant, with tall field maple and other trees. The ground flora is abundant – carpets of wood and yellow anemones cover the floor, with kidneywort, herb paris, toothwort and the rare spring pea. We get brief views of calling middle spotted woodpecker and wood warbler trills in the background.

a carpet of anemone flowers
Carpets of wood and yellow anemone

view of the swamp
Part of the core area swamp

Dense stands of alder denote the edge of one of the core nature conservation areas, a 250ha of peat swamp with restricted human access. The area has attracted elk from Poland in the recent past and occasionally wolves. Eberhard tells us about a wolf which was satellite tagged in Poland and was tracked on a journey to western Germany then back to Poland, averaging 100km a night. Even the local wild boar travel forty km a night within the biosphere in their search for food.

There’s a high pitched call over the trees and Eberhard is pointing - ‘schreiadler!’ – a lesser spotted eagle. We catch it in brief silhouette, then it’s gone. There are 3 or 4 pairs in the reserve, but they’re declining. Looking at the amount of improved grassland it’s not hard to see why - these eagles need large areas of vole-rich grassland to feed in and this habitat is shrinking rapidly in the reserve and wider Brandenburg. In the core areas, the eagles are safe for now, breeding in old trees in the undisturbed swamp, with just enough good hunting habitat to keep them going.

We drive back to the farmhouse, where Eberhard’s flock of Pomeranian sheep tuck hungrily into a pile of large turnips. There’s distant low rumble of thunder and it starts to rain, the first serious rain we’ve had since arriving. Gustav, a young ram, follows Beate looking for milk, and is duly rewarded, then has to endure a quick cuddle from Roland.

Roland with Gustav, a young ram
Roland with Gustav

We drive back in the light rain, and Lutz gets on his bike and heads for home in Altkunkendorf. We settle down to a chilli prepared by Roland, then it’s ‘Good Night Vienna’ and I hit the sack.

This is the diary of Richard Archer, RSPB Conservation Officer for Somerset. In mid April, Richard spent three weeks as part of the RSPB/WWT/Pensthorpe crane team collecting crane eggs in Eastern Germany. These are his personal reflections on the successful German visit. You can read all of Richards Diary here.

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Richard Archer is RSPB’s Conservation Officer for Somerset, and took his sabbatical in the of Spring 2010 to help with the collection, incubation and transport of the first year’s eggs.